(Published in the Philly Soccer Page on Aug. 27, 2010.)
Game time: 7:30 p.m.
TV: 6abc, MyNetwork TV (likely to be moved to abc 6.2, the LiveWell channel)
Two teams that looked good when last they played hope to get back things on track this Saturday as Philadelphia Union visit the New England Revolution.
The Union (4-11-5) are on a six-game winless streak, which began with a 1-1 draw against New England on July 31. They have won just one of their last nine and lost last week in a game Union manager Peter Nowak called his team’s “worst” performance of the year. The team has had a week to soak that in after ending their season’s toughest stretch,a 5-game, 15-day period during which the Union faced some of the league’s best teams. The negative momentum of that stretch carried into Sunday’s 2-0 loss to D.C. United. They remain without one of their best players, Shea Salinas, and Alejandro Moreno has joined him on the injury list. People are starting to call for more of the young players Union management built this team around. Many have given up on the playoffs, but with an expansion team, what matters more in the first year is good soccer, something that wasn’t on display last week but had shown up plenty before that.
The Revolution (6-11-3) had appeared to turn around a rough season by taking 12 points from 10 games over the course of a month. Then they lost Aug. 18 to Chicago and sent out a 3-5-2 for Kansas City’s small field to get demolished by the Wizards, 4-1, on Aug. 21. They’re a team that’s been ravaged by injuries this year, but they trot out a very quick back four and the league’s best center midfielder in Shalrie Joseph. That said, this is largely a team of no-names that bears little resemblance to the great Revolution teams that made it to three straight Major League Soccer championship games from 2005-2007. They’re one of the last MLS teams to be playing in a football stadium, and they’re generally considered a franchise being left behind as other clubs move into the future. (So when you see all those empty seats in the stands, recognize it’s because they’re playing in a stadium built for the New England Patriots.)
Both teams hope their turnaround starts now. We’ll see who gets it.
Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz
Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco
Midfielders: Justin Mapp, Stefani Miglioranzi, Eduardo Coudet, Fred
Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux
Goalkeeper: Matt Reis
Defenders: Cory Gibbs, Darius Barnes, Emmanuel Osei, Kevin Alston
Midfielders: Chris Tierney, Pat Phelan, Shalrie Joseph, Sainey Nyassi
Forwards: Ilija Stolica, Marko Perovic
Injuries and Suspensions
Philadelphia: OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture); QUESTIONABLE: FW Alejandro Moreno (R hamstring strain)
New England: OUT: GK Preston Burpo (R leg fracture);MF Jason Griffiths (L hamstring strain); FW Edgaras Jankauskas (L adductor strain); FW Taylor Twellman (concussion); QUESTIONABLE: DF Kevin Alston(L hamstring strain); FW Zak Boggs (concussion); MF Nico Colaluca (R anklesprain); FW Kheli Dube (R knee MCL sprain); MF Marko Perovic (L foot plantar fasciitis); PROBABLE: DF Cory Gibbs (L ankle sprain).
Philadelphia defenders vs. New England attackers
The lone MLS team without a shutout plays one of the league’s lowest scoring teams. You’d think it might be a good opportunity for Union goalkeeper Chris Seitz to get that first shutout, but we thought that about D.C. United too before two defensive breakdowns turned into two goals.
The knock on Seitz has been that he doesn’t play aggressively enough, failing to come out for balls that he should. The back four haven’t played that well in recent weeks, as fullbacks Jordan Harvey and Michael Orozco Viscal have offered very little going forward in recent weeks but continue to push up nonetheless, leaving center backs Danny Califf and Juan Diego Gonzalez isolated. Califf had a game he’d like to forget Sunday, but he’s earned fan favorite status for a reason: He plays hard and presses on. Gonzalez has been a solid addition to the club, but the communication is not there yet beyond this language barrier, as he made a complete mess of a play against D.C. United that must be chalked up to miscommunication with Seitz, at least in part.
New England had a three-game stretch from June 5 to July 2 during which they were outscored 9-0, part of a larger six-game stretch in which they scored in only one game. They then scored two in a win over Los Angeles and one in each of the five games since then, so at least the zeroes have become ones. Since then, they signed forward Ilija Stolica, a Serbian journeyman who hasn’t done much. Marko Perovic may man the other striker position, though he’s best as a midfielder after a solid career with Red Star Belgrade and FC Basel.
Philadelphia midfield vs. New England midfield
It’s Shalrie Joseph and everyone else. Joseph is the league’s best, with the quality to play in Europe. As this team disintegrated, Revolution management have held onto him. Everyone else? Decent, but unspectacular, names to surround an excellent player wasted on a team that seems no longer committed to competing in modern MLS. Marko Perovic belongs in the midfield with Joseph, but the dearth of scorers has pushed up to the front line all too often.
The Union have their own problems though, as a lack of width in the midfield has prompted teams to collapse the center and shut down their attack. Fred has been mostly a nonentity, ineffective as he plays out of position on the wing. Winger Justin Mapp was probably the only Union player to fare well against D.C. United, and he probably has the rest of the season to show he belongs on this team. Stefani Miglioranzi is a nearly one-dimensional defensive midfielder who has been good most of the year but shoulders most of the blame for United’s second goal last week. Chacho Coudet has been manning the other midfield spot, playing a deep-lying role that offers good passing but does little for team balance as Fred and Mapp continue to press on into the center. Youngsters Andrew Jacobson, Roger Torres and Amobi Okugo seem to have disappeared, but after last week’s epic stink bomb against D.C. United, look for Nowak to make some changes to the lineup.
Philadelphia forwards vs. New England defense
The league has learned how to defend the Union: Stop Sebastien Le Toux, and everything grinds to a halt. He has scored or created 18 of the Union’s 23 goals. The team has played better with Le Toux in the midfield of late, however, because he’s one of the only midfielders who actually plays with any width and puts the sides of the field in play. So don’t be surprised if Jack McInerney gets the start in place of Alejandro Moreno, with hopes of injecting some life in a stagnant attack. Danny Mwanga has shown a terrific scoring touch, but unless Le Toux is getting him the ball in the box, he hasn’t shown he can do much to create great position to score.
Fullback Kevin Alston is the best player on New England’s defense, an all-star right back with quickness and smarts. The rest of the back line is relatively small but very quick, and they impressed when they visited PPL Park a month ago. This time, Cory Gibbs isn’t injured, and Darius Barnes and Emanuel Osei are decent in the middle. Osei is just 5-9 and plays center back, and much like the Union, New England has given up far more headed goals (8) then they’ve scored (3). For the Union, that ratio is 9 given up and only 2 scored, however, so there’s no indication the Union will be able to take advantage of the short defender, particularly if the 5-8 McInerney gets the start. Goalkeeper Matt Reis is solid when he plays.
Note: Goal.com’s Kyle McCarthy reports that Reis and Alston will not play due to injury.
Individual match-up to watch
Shalrie Joseph vs. anyone
Honestly, unless the Union put some youth on the field, the most interesting guy (other than Le Toux) to watch is going to be Joseph. He’s just as good as it gets in this league, so you might as well pay attention. If he was younger than 31, Europe would be calling.
2-2 draw. The Union can’t be as bad as they were last week, can they? If the Revs are without Alston and Reis, it could make a big difference. On the other hand, they have to show they can respond to adversity before we start picking them to win games again.